Australian Landfills: Why Your Waste Counts

Australia committed to stopping the practice of burning trash as a means to get rid of its garbage back in the mid-1900’s. Since then, the majority of waste has been ending up in Australian landfills; both regulated and unregulated. It’s estimated that there are 600 registered landfills in the country with as many as 2,000 small, private, and non-registered landfills. About 40% of Australian waste ends up in these plots of rubbish, amounting to 20 million tons per year.

The Conversation Newsletter estimates that the majority of waste in landfills can be attributed to domestic trash, construction materials, and commercial/industrial garbage. They continue the breakdown by pointing out that about 60% of domestic waste is organic material, 40% is food, and 20% is garden waste. Methane is a product of the breaking down of the organic materials, which must be collected and converted to carbon dioxide to lower global warming risks. The end goal would be to eliminate landfill gases altogether, but this is nearly impossible with the volume of trash collected annually. Water running through toxic waste is also a great concern when it comes to the areas surrounding landfills. The water that touches the waste then carries what it comes in contact with, which can contaminate nearby water sources or soil. This could cause disease, birth defects, and other health complications if the contamination makes its way into human territory.

The government has been creating ways to encourage industrial and demolition waste to keep out of the countries landfills by use of grants and cheaper recycling alternatives. Timber, rocks, asphalt, soil, and other construction-like materials are finding other uses and eliminating almost half of their contribution to landfill trash.

Also found in The Conversation Newsletter is why we’re not able to calculate the exact number of landfills in Australia. National databases including National Pollution Inventory and National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme collect information and registrations of the landfills that qualify for a license based on the size of their operation. Some landfills, however, are under the required capacity and therefore are not accounted for.

The number of waste management sites, however, can be found on the National Waste Management Facilities Database. The Newsletter reports that Queensland occupies the most sites with New South Wales and Western Australia coming next in the lineup. The Northern Territory lack landfills altogether and only produces 1% of Australian garbage.

There has been increasing recognition to proper disposal of hazardous materials along with repurposing materials that can be reworked. Safe landfill practices can prevent environmental disasters, but the growth of them in the past decade is concerning for future generations. Zero-waste advocates seek to keep their waste trail to a minimum and completely out of landfills. Their contribution adds up in the long run and helps advance the system towards safer and more sustainable practices.

References:

McCabe, Bernadette, and William Clarke. “Explainer: How Much Landfill Does Australia Have?” The Conversation. N.p., 12 June 2017. Web. 13 June 2017.

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